This painting by Paolo Veronese being my favorite painting in the Louvre Museum, had to be the first “Close up” artwork. A series of artworks that we will try to describe to you, giving you all the crispy details, and the often forgotten facts!
First of all, have you ever seen this painting before? If the answer is no, run to the Louvre Museum, follow the crowds of people heading towards the Mona Lisa, and once facing the most famous painting in the world – without really knowing why – turn around. Yes, the painting that is the size of a wall, it’s the Wedding Feast in Cana! Difficult to miss with its exceptional dimensions – 750 square feet, or three times my apartment in Paris… This painting was originally preserved in the Benedictine convent of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice. Commissioned in 1562 by the monks, it was destined to decorate their new refectory. The sponsors demanded that the work be monumental in order to occupy an entire wall.
The Wedding Feast in Cana, Paolo Veronese, 1563. Louvre Museum
The Wedding Feast in Cana, a biblical episode, evokes the first miracle accomplished by Christ. While he is invited to a wedding dinner in the city of Cana, the wine comes to miss at the end of the banquet. Jesus then instructed the servants to fill large stone jars with water and then to serve the master of the house. Suddenly, he notices that the water has turned into wine!!
This sacred episode is transposed into a sumptuous Venetian wedding. In this scene of marriage, Christ is, surprisingly, placed in the center, surrounded by the Virgin and the disciples, relegating the bride and groom to the left. Moreover, the predominant figure of Christ is reinforced by his fixed gaze towards the viewer.
The bride is also looking at us, but with a heavy-staring, does she look happy? Not really, because there’s no more wine at her banquet. And why does the groom look so thoughtful? His attitude may be related to the butler’s gesture, in his green tunic: he uncurls his belt, with his left hand on his purse, he is indignant: his work has been outraged, he returns his apron in the middle of the feast; the groom does not know what to say and tastes the wine even though he doesn’t know where it comes from.
Next to the bride: a man dressed in blue, the nose and the red cheeks of a big drinker. Is he watching the bride’s cleavage? No, with his left hand he holds a full cup, he actually speaks to the servant wearing a bell cap, he speaks of wine: it looks like he is complaining – maybe he still has the older wine in his glass and wish to try the new one ?
The miracle is happening! Look at the amphorae, highlighted in the foreground by the musicians’ alignment. On the left, a servant presents one amphorae to the groom, the amphora is empty, a small black servant, brings a full cup to the groom, the amphora is empty but the cup is full. To the right of the painting, the amphora contains a lot of wine. We are witnessing the first miracle of Christ, water turned into wine.
On this canvas, 132 characters are represented in costumes and in a decoration typical from Italy in the 16th century. In this subtle work, Veronese thus orchestrated an ingenious staging and managed to mix two epochs distant from more than 1500 years by mixing the profane and the sacred. This painting, which was famous throughout Europe and which travellers of the time came to admire, was stolen in 1797 by the armies of Bonaparte. The huge canvas was then rolled and cut to be transported by boat during a long journey before reaching the Louvre. In 1815, Austria, which then occupied Italy, called for the return of the painting in its collections. The administrator of the Louvre at the time, Vivien Denon, managed to convince Austria that it was impossible to bring the painting back because of the dimensions of the canvas « it can’t go through the doors » Instead of the Wedding Feast of Cana, France sent a painting of Charles Lebrun.
Unfortunately, the Joconde Hall is about to be renovated in 2019 – from January 8 to november 2019 -, so it will be impossible to see the Wedding Feast in Cana. If you want though, you can always go to Venice, in the old convent where the painting used to be. Today the convent is the seat of the Giorgio Cini Foundation, which restored it and transformed it into a cultural centre. A facsimily of Veronese’s painting, made by the Factum Arte company, was placed at its original location.
Facsimile of the Wedding Feast in Cana, Giorgio Cini Fondation, Venice.